by guest author Dr. Christian Seberino
All students want to do excellent on math and science exams. All parents want their kids to do well too. There is a century of scientific studies on how to do that. These studies show that the two best strategies are taking advantage of simulated testing and the spacing effect.
There are many methods used to absorb material in math and science classes: highlighting, rereading, summarizing, etc. In general, most students will benefit the most by taking advantage of simulated testing and the spacing effect. The motive of this article is not to eliminate all other techniques. The motive is to encourage students to make these two methods the largest part of their process.
Simulated testing involves mimicking the test experience before the actual test. The superiority of simulated testing for math and science has over a century of supportive evidence. For example, for a 1909 study see  below, and for a 2005 study see . This can be as simple as redoing old homework problems that require recall of information from memory.
Simulated testing will enforce the pattern of recall in your mind. Any information you cannot recall will be made clear. Compare this with simply highlighting and rereading. These methods do not force you to recall nor make you aware of what you have trouble recalling.
Here is an anecdote from my college experience. In a difficult physics class, I once did all the assigned homework problems three times before the final. Not only did this make the final easy for me, but I got an A+ in the class. By employing this technique, I was able to get several A+’s in other math and science classes. Now it seems obvious that simulated testing works. At the time it seemed like a revelation!
In the free and paid classes I teach at Philfour.com, all homework assignments use an online homework system that provides immediate feedback. Students can go back as often as desired to redo old exercises to prepare for tests.
The spacing effect is the wonderful consequence of reviewing information spaced out in time. Compare cramming for five hours straight before a test to using the spacing effect. With daily studying for a few minutes one can learn a subject better and in less time. The spacing effect is so important, and so often forgotten, that it bears repeating.
Using the spacing effect you can prepare for exams better, faster, and easier. Once again, there is over a century of evidence. For an 1885 study see  and for a 2006 study see . Preparation for theater, dancing, and musical performances require repeated practice. Imagine a dancer trying to cram for a dance recital by learning her moves for the first time a few hours before a show. Why should mental “performances” be any different?
You have probably had the experience of your subconscious helping you solve a problem and surprising you with the answer when you were not even thinking about it. I can only speculate that by utilizing the spacing effect, we give our subconscious time to continue “studying” on our behalf. Cramming for exams likely does not give our subconscious time to do much extra studying on our behalf.
So if you want to greatly improve your performance on exams, do lots of simulated testing and use the spacing effect. Imagine how dangerous you would be if you combined these and did lots of simulated testing at spaced out intervals before an exam. Why not try it?
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